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Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

Phil Callaway is certain that laughter and a sense of gratitude are the keys to overcoming the stresses of everyday life. He shares how the Lord reminded him of that lesson through the extreme stress of his wife’s serious illness and subsequent remarkable recovery.
Original Air Date: July 20, 2022

Preview:

Phil Callaway: Friends, what are you thankful for today? Every day let’s set our default to Thanksgiving. It’s a choice that changes those around us and changes us too. Joy grows best in the soil of Thanksgiving.

End of Preview

John Fuller: I wonder if you need a change in perspective today? Our guest, Phil Callaway can you help you with that. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Phil Callaway is a Canadian humorist and author, and I know you will be blessed by his presentation today. He hosts a daily radio feature and podcast called Laugh Again that airs across North America, the United Kingdom, and even in Africa. He’s authored several books on finding joy in life, including his latest, Laugh Like a Kid Again. I love that title. And even though Phil makes it a habit to be joyful, his life is not perfect, as you’re going to hear today.

John: And with that, here’s Phil Callaway speaking at The Park Church in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada, on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.

Phil: We love to laugh, but we gotta face it, laughter can be hard to find. Some of you know that. All of us, to one degree or another, know that. An- and sadly, Christians are not always the most joyful people. I know that’s a shock to some of you, but I remember sitting in church as a boy, looking around at the adults who looked, some of them, like prunes, and thinking to myself, “I don’t think I want to spend eternity with these people.”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Not with some of them anyway. We sang a song. Did you ever sing this? (singing)

Audience: (singing)

Phil: (singing)

Audience: (singing)

Phil: See, they had to keep asking-

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: … ’cause they couldn’t find it (laughs). How good it is to be in a church filled with joy. But you know, I did, I thought that joyful Christian was an oxymoron, like, you know, jumbo shrimp, and airline food, and, and Microsoft works. That kind of thing.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: But thank God I saw incredible joy in my parents despite all they’d been through. My mom could be a very funny gal. I was a thin child, I was so skinny I, I was swimming in a lake one summer and a dog come out to fetch me three times.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: But my mom, she’d say to me, “Son,” she’d say, “e- eat up, that way you’re harder to kidnap.” You know?

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: She could be funny. I think for mom, laughter was a windshield wiper. It didn’t stop the rain, but it allowed her to keep going. She survived an abusive childhood, a horrible abusive childhood, five miscarriages. Her first son died in her arms at nine months. My mom suffered from deep depression, as you might expect. But a kid doesn’t know that. In those days we didn’t know about the D word, she was just sick, that’s all I knew. And so I got into comedy to cheer my momma up. I would bounce into the bedroom, I’d make funny faces, I’d say funny things. Anything to coax a smile. If I got it right, she would laugh. She would crawl out of bed, “Go to the kitchen and make me breakfast.” It was h-… my first paying gig.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: It was. That same year, a friend and I found a way of getting a skunk into my neighbor’s trunk. My neighbor was a good man, he did not deserve this, but we had found this skunk and there it was in the middle of the road and just lying like that.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: And we thought, “Certainly it still serves some purpose.”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: So we found a way of getting into a bag and into our neighbor’s… my neighbor’s trunk. You know, a-… nobody locked anything in those days, so it was an easy thing to do. We watched on a Saturday morning from behind some shrubs as that man came out of his house with his wife and his two children, one of each. They had a beautiful family thing going, life was going well for them, I think.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: And, uh, he was my Sunday school teacher, did I mention that?

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: I don’t think I did. And he played the accordion. And also carried a beeper, which I always thought was optimistic for an accordion player to think that someone might call him, but, uh, that’s besides the point.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: He had a beautiful wife and these two children, and they got into that car, and they took off. And, and they only got about 60 feet I reckon, and they came squeaking to a halt, and there was conversation in the car. I think she was blaming him for the smell. I don’t know what was happening. He got out of that car, opened that trunk, and we watched our Sunday school teacher completely lose his mind. It was a wonderful thing to see happen.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: This man slammed that lid; he kicked that bumper. He began using words he had not taught us in Sunday school.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: And it’s taken be years to have perspective on this, but I’ve started to realize that for every single one of us in this room, there comes along a time when a skunk gets into our trunk. Am I right?

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: A time when something comes along that we definitely would not have chosen. But what is it that separates those who resign, from those who rejoice? Those who slam that lid and kick that bumper and curse, from those who are able to find a little joy there perhaps years later (laughs)? What is it? I hope you want to know today.

Phil: I want to give you four secrets of a skunk buster. Four secrets that are absolutely essential to living life with joy. Are you ready? Many of you are taking notes. Not a single one of you is taking notes.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Four secrets that are absolutely essential to sanity, success, and significance in turbulent, changing times. Four things that every kid knows, and every adult needs to be reminded of. Are you ready? Here we go. Point number one, say it with me, the world is full of cacti, but we don’t need to sit on one.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: I read in a UK newspaper a most fascinating story. A girl had brought a hamster to the vet, it hadn’t moved in three days, it would not eat, it would not drink. It was just leaning up against the side of the cage, stuck there. “Huh, what to do?” She took the hamster to the vet. Turns out, the vet opened the cage and pulled that hamster out, it was fine. It walked around and around on the table, kind of wobbling. She stopped it and she reached into the hamster’s mouth, and she pulled out a fridge magnet. A fridge magnet.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Back home, this hamster had been out only for a few minutes, had been on the kitchen floor and scarfed up a fridge magnet and spent three days stuck to the side of the cage-

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: … due to its magnetic personality.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Well, the hamster is fine now, I’m happy to report. But, you know, I got thinking about that and I thought, you know, “Th- that’s me lately. That’s me. I had been swallowing the wrong things.” Have you? Where is your focus? Where is it? Are you feeding on the wrong stuff? Bad news and gloom and doom or the whatsoever things of scripture, things that are pure and lovely and of good rapport, excellent and praiseworthy, are we thinking on those things? Maybe at night you go home, and you flip on the television, you watch news for three hours. I… Does anyone do this? Huh? The news anchor bids you good evening then spends an entire three hours telling you why it isn’t.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: And that seems to about some things up. What are swallowing? Where’s your focus? Lately, I got to tell ya, I have been noticing all that’s wrong and I have started wining. I know that surprises you. But we canceled more than a hundred speaking events, well past that, many during COVID. And when it all started someone said to me right away, “Hey, man, stay safe,” and I said, “Hey, thanks. I get it. But what I want to do during this, however long it lasts, is stay thankful.” He said, “How?” I said, “By going and looking for stuff I’m thankful for.” Can we do this? Yeah.

Phil: In April of that first year, I said to my wife, “Honey, I am thankful for my car. We just got 43 days to the gallon.”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: I’m thankful I was able to go into a bank with a mask on and not get arrested.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Isn’t that cool? Tell your grandchildren that one day. Radical gratitude is the great secret to a contagious joy-filled life. 1 Thessalonians says this, “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” What a verse. What a truth. Radical gratitude. Is that you? I [inaudible 00:08:52].

Phil: When our kids were small, my wife, Ramona, was tested for Huntington’s Disease, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It’s fatal, it’s genetic, it’s hereditary. So three of her siblings had it at the time. We found out on Valentine’s Day after 10 months of waiting for the results of this simple blood test that she did not have it. It was the happiest day of my life, but before long things took a turn for the worse. I was in my office one day and I was working on a, a marriage magazine article, and I had just written out the line, “My visa card is missing, but the thief is spending less than my wife so we haven’t reported it yet.”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: And, uh, the phone rang, it was not funny at all, it was Ramona on the line saying, “Honey, help me. I don’t know what day it is. I don’t know where I am.” And the phone went dead. I took off running for home. I found our three kids in the kitchen making their own breakfast in stainless steel bowl. And they looked up at me and Steven our eldest said, “Daddy, is momma gonna die?” I didn’t know. I knew all about Ramona. She moved in next door to me back in 10th grade and I made it my life Bible verse to love my neighbor as myself.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: She’s the second-best thing in life that’s ever happened to me apart from my relationship with Jesus Christ. But I came into our living room, she was unconscious on the floor, lying in a pool of blood, a large gash in her leg. She’d just had the first seizure of her life, and the first of many, many, many to come.

Phil: Some of you are in a similar spot. You don’t know the way ahead. Three words changed me over time. Three simple words. You see, I was a comedian, but laughter vanished, and bitterness took its place. And one Thanksgiving Day I was trying to think of stuff I was grateful for. I could not think of one single thing with the thing… the things that were going on. Ramona was down to 90 pounds. People didn’t recognize her, some of the people in our town. Having seizures every half an hour, grand mal seizures.

Phil: I finally got everybody into… to bed and I was asleep to, and an- and suddenly there was little kid in our room. It was one of our children, thankfully.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: But Jeff tapped me on the shoulder, woke me up to inform me that he could not sleep, and I had to be up in about three hours anyway. So, I took him across the hall, and I tucked him in, I said, “Jeff, I want you to think of some things you’re glad about.” This little kid looks up me, says, “Dad, you start. Daddy, you start. Three words.” And I thought of those verses that we just went over, “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances.” All circumstances. I thought, “If the person who wrote that was in prison like he was, I can do this too.” And I started on my thankful list. What are you thankful for this morning? I am thankful for someone to thank; above all I thank. I’m thankful for the dark, it’s the only time I can see the stars. I’m thankful that I get to make breakfast now Ramona sleeps in a little bit more often, so we find ourselves eating cake and ice cream for breakfast occasionally. These contain the four basic food groups, sugar, eggs, artificial flavoring, and cholesterol.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Yes. And I am thankful for three wonderful children who surround us with laughter, and energy, and mischief, and love. And I think, “I’ll go to sleep now, like all of them are.” Don’t get me wrong, I still whine sometimes. I am most accomplished at it. I whined the other day about hard butter. Ask Ramona, [inaudible 00:12:23] but what it does to the bread. Say aw.

Audience: Aw.

Phil: I know you’re surprised, and you feel sorry for me. I went into the bathroom with my socks on and the floor was wet, and now my socks are wet.

Audience: Aw.

Phil: My hand is too chubby to shove into the Pringles chip container.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: So I have to tilt the container.

Audience: Aw (laughs).

Phil: My seedless watermelon last summer had a seed in it.

Audience: Aw. (laughs)

Phil: In Sacramento, California, a Women of Faith, uh, event, a weekend event, was oversold by 1500 seats, which is a wee bit of a problem if you’re organizing something, so they began to get volunteers to phone all of the women coming and apologize. “We want to get everybody in, so we’re gonna move in smaller chairs. You’ll be sitting, some of you, very close to the platform and we’re sorry.” But one hour into that weekend meeting, people were upset, and the complaints began to arrive. And so they asked the next speaker if she would mind just apologizing again on behalf of the organizers, and she said they would… that she would.

Phil: Some of you know who this lady is. Her name is Joni Eareckson Tada. I’ve been blessed to spend time with her on two occasions. What an amazing gal. She was paralyzed, for those of you who don’t know, in a diving accident in Chesapeake Bay when she was 16 years of age. Her life forever changed. But all over the world she is known for her joy and for her gratitude despite what has happened to her. She got up in front of these ladies, she was wheeled up there, and she said this, “I understand some of you aren’t comfortable sitting in the seats you’re sitting in tonight. Well, neither am I. And I’ve been in mine for more than 40 years.” Then smiling her beautiful smile, she said, “I have thousands of friends who would give anything to sit where you are sitting if just for tonight.” Many of those women said that was a pivotal moment in their lives, when they changed from bitterness to gratitude. What a gal, Joni. Friends, what are you thankful for today? Every day let’s set our default to Thanksgiving. It’s a choice that changes those around us and changes us too. Joy grows best in the soil of Thanksgiving.

John: You are listening to Phil Callaway on Focus on The Family. And you can get Phil’s book, Laugh Like a Kid Again, and a CD of this entire presentation, when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459. Or donate and request those at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Let’s return now to Phil Callaway on Focus on the Family.

Phil: The world is full of cacti, but we don’t need to sit on one. Second point is don’t jump from the train when you’re in a tunnel.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Every kid knows this, right? But sometimes we adults seem to forget. This means different things to different people here, I know. It makes me think of my marriage. A recent study shows that you can live four years longer by staying married. I mentioned that at a marriage event and a guy came up to me, he would… he, he looked pretty, pretty sour.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: And he said, “Yeah, that four years longer thing,” he said, “I, I disagree. I, I think it just seems longer.”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: He said, “That’s just four more years of misery.” I said, “Well, that’s up to you, man.” He said, “How long you been married?” I think it was 35 years at that time for us, I said, “35 years.” He said, “In a row?”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: “Yeah, it’s possible.” He said, “How?” I said, “Oh, God’s grace. God’s grace.” My wife, she, she loves me despite the ridiculous things I have done. She knows the worst about me and loves me. God’s grace, repentance, and forgiveness. Do I hear an amen?

Audience: Amen.

Phil: We laugh together. We just do. I remember her birthday; I forget her age.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Try that. I like to go around the house tightening jars, just… and that way she needs me more.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Go ahead and laugh. A stifled laugh will back up on you and spread to your hips, so let it go.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Let it go. Don’t jump makes me think of the disunity I’m seeing in so many relationships and families right now. My prayer for you is that you will love one another as I have loved you. Those are the words of Jesus. We can do this. Despite the things we disagree about, let’s come together over [inaudible]. Above all, we are to be known by our love.

Phil: Ramona’s seizures continued. She was not doing well. I had a man say to me who called himself a Christian, he said, “Callaway, come here,” he said, “some advice,” he said, “put her in a home and get on with life.” That was what comes from a culture that we’re in, a throwaway culture. If it’s broken, we don’t fix it. But we began to pray. And, uh, Ramona, I got to tell ya, is doing unbelievable well. That’s a long story in itself. But thanks to doctors and the healing power of our savior, Jesus Christ, she’s doing so well. But I look back and wonder what it woulda been like had I followed that guy’s advice.

Phil: Contrast that advice with my brother-in-law, Bill and Jim. My brothers-in-law. They were my heroes in life. And it’s simple why. These guys have nursed their lives through decades of Huntington’s Disease. When they didn’t know them, they were there. Miriam, my wife’s eldest sister, was down to… she… well, she just was doing very poorly but she was visiting a doctor in Vancouver, and he said, “Miriam, we’re stunned. 25 years with Huntington’s, your attitude is amazing.” He said, uh, “We can’t understand it. You’re only showing 50% of the symptoms associated with Huntington’s. We think your belief in a higher power might have helped you.” And Merriam started to laugh. She said, “That would be God (laughs).”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: She said, “Doc, life is falling apart at the edges but not at the core. Right at the core I know that I’m loved my God. I’m promised eternal joys of heaven. And I have a husband who loves me. Children who love me too. And I have a beautiful fridge magnet that say, ‘Lord, if you can’t make me thin, make my friends look fat.’”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: You know something? Nurses in the care center she was in told us, “When we’re discouraged, we go, and we talk to Miriam.” She was down to 40 pounds at the end. Women were showing up to see her to be encouraged. How is that possible? How is it? It’s the joy of the Lord that was so evident in her life and the hope of heaven, where all her question marks would be straightened into exclamation points.

Audience: Amen.

Phil: She was going home.

Phil: A young man was on a flight where turbulence was terrible, people were screaming and praying. I’ve been twice on flights like that. Don’t want to do it again. But beside this man, a little girl was there. Her feet were curled up underneath her. She was reading a book amid all the terrible turbulence. The adults scared to death yet worry and fear seemed to have no place in her thoughts. So this plane eventually lands thankfully, and the pale passengers sitting there stunned, these passengers, and this man leaned over to the girl, he said, “That storm was horrible.” She nodded her head, “Yeah.” “But but you didn’t seem afraid. How come?” She smiled at him, she said, “My daddy’s the pilot and he’s taking me home.” Storms, I suspect one has entered your life recently, darkening the horizon, tossing you around. Do you feel like running, my friend? Would you focus on this? We have a pilot who has never once missed a runway.

Audience: Amen.

Phil: “He sustains all things,” says Hebrews 1:3. “No human wisdom, or understanding, or plan can stand against the Lord,” that’s Proverbs 21:30. Isaiah 46:10, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose. Heaven’s throne is occupied, and all is well.” So don’t jump. Stay committed to that spouse, that task, those kids that drive ya crazy. Your faithfulness may not seem like a big deal right now, but trust me, we’re all leaving footsteps everywhere we go and it’s up to us whether those footsteps will be worth following. And God’s grace is there for you. If you have fallen away, if you have jumped, He’s catching you. He’s there. Don’t jump from the train when you’re in a tunnel.

Phil: Third point, courage is fear that has said its prayers. Fear has gone rather viral recently, I think you’ve noticed that. But Jesus never said, “Be of good fear,” did he?

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” I love those words from Jesus shortly before he was… he was headed to the cross. You know, when I was a kid, I didn’t have much use for prayer, I don’t know about you. My mother taught me how to pray, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul be taken.” I’m thinking, “What am I gonna die of? I’m four.”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: “Hardening of the arteries? Kidney stones? Osteoporosis? What?” And then my older brother threatened to kill me, and my prayers took on new urgency.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: And so it is in life, right? Courage is fear that has said its prayers. Finally, before I sit down, live so the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Yeah? Have you been to one of those funerals and you’re wondering, “Who are they talking about? The guy in the casket?”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: You would have loved my parents. My momma, I’ve told a little of her story. My dad was part scotch and part club soda.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Until Jesus got a hold of his life and changed him. And he was such a man of integrity. At both of their funerals people told me, “They were people of integrity. They were the real deal.” Four best-selling authors told me that my mo-… that, that they never would have written one paragraph without my mother’s encouragement. They were those kind of people. And they didn’t leave much behind them when they passed away. We have looked everywhere with shovels.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Or did they? They left behind them the example of two godly people who just love Jesus. Love their kids enough to tell them so. Didn’t chase the stuff of Earth. Chased things that are eternal. And as a result, I am one very, very rich boy this morning. I turned 35 a few years ago-

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: … tucked my son Steven to bed, he looked at me, he said, “How, how old are you again, Dad?” I said, “I’m 35.” He said, “Wow, you’re half dead.”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: He did. So I tucked him in calmly, went across the hallway, and removed him from the will.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: Actually, I got thinking, “I can’t believe how fast life goes.” And I (laughs), I thought, “I better find out what I want on, on my tombstone,” so I started looking. There are funny ones out there, “See, I told you I was sick,” is one.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: “Here lies an atheist, all dressed up, no place to go.”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: In Tallahassee, Florida a, a terrible one put there by a lady whose husband was known as a womanizer, it says, “Frank, at least I know where you’re sleeping tonight.” Terrible.

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: I hope that won’t speak of any of our lives. I know what I want on my tombstone. Just want it to say this, “He found God’s grace too amazing to keep to himself.” Each of us can live that way for God’s glory.

Phil: Steven was five, we were headed past a graveyard on a Sunday afternoon, he pointed out the window, a hole was dug in the ground and a pile of dirt beside it, he said, “Dad, look, one got out.”

Audience: (laughs)

Phil: And the more I laughed at those words, the more I hung onto them. Because that’s our ultimate reason for hope this morning and for great joy. That’s why we can laugh like a kid again. One got out. Jesus Christ has risen, my friend. He is the one that gives us strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. The one who got out. I want to give you a blessing this morning from Romans 15:13, just says this, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” God bless you. Thank you very much.

John: What a great perspective today on Focus on the Family, from our guest, Phil Callaway.

Jim: John, this has been so refreshing and I really appreciate how Phil shares scriptural truths with stories that display his unique sense of humor. And I got to tell ya, that’s a great combination when you’re going through a terrible time. And let me recommend that you follow up on this broadcast by getting a copy of Phil’s latest book, Laugh Like a Kid Again: Live Without Regret and Leave Footsteps Worth Following. It’s a collection of heartwarming short stories rooted in God’s truth that will really encourage you. So, get a copy from us here at Focus on the Family, where the proceeds go right back into ministry, not into shareholders’ pockets. And we can send that out to you for a donation of any amount. And boy, if this broadcast has brought up some painful issues for you, please give us a call. Our friendly staff would be honored to listen to your concerns and pray with you. And if your situation warrants it, we’ll have one of our caring Christian Counselors give you a call back for a one-time consultation. And that’s a free service we provide thanks to the wonderful donor community.

John: Yeah, just give us a call if you need to talk or to request a copy of Laugh Like a Kid Again. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And I know we’re kind of midway through summer, but if you’re going to be in Colorado Springs at any point in time, stop by and see us. We have a great welcome center where you can stretch your legs, shop at our bookstore, and enjoy our children’s play area and soda shop. It’s a pretty cool place. Coming up next time, help for busy moms who want to get closer to God.

Preview:

Courtney Ellis: And by the time I had turned out of our street, I was already distracted. And I saw someone walking by with a cute tank top and I thought, “Oh, maybe I would like that tank top and I wonder where you can buy such a tank top?” And it’s like-

Jim: (laughs)

Courtney: … I already… It’s been 20 seconds.

Jim: Yeah.

Courtney: I couldn’t focus on Jesus for 20 seconds.

 End of Preview

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